Russia and the EU: Teaming up to save the environment in 2017?

07 Jan 2017, 16:02 ( 9 Months ago)

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2017 will be the Year of the Environment in Russia. The Kremlin has already announced numerous environmental projects (involving both education and infrastructure) to implement within this year. In addition, it will spread awareness among Russians about the nation’s increasing ecological problems.

This move by the Kremlin echoes the global trend, as indicated by the much-touted Paris Climate Change Agreement signed in December 2015 to replace the outdated Kyoto Protocol. And that raises the prospect of potential collaboration between Russia and other nations that are similarly aligned on environmental goals. There might even be an opportunity for Russia and the EU to partner together in 2017.

The EU is one of the most important stakeholders that is concerned with the challenges of climate change and environmental protection. Over the past few years, the EU has sought to maintain an image of being the key driver of the “green trend” globally. For example, the EU’s expenses on environmental protection were the highest in 2013 in comparison with other countries.

Thanks to the EU’s heft and its large-scale financing of environmental projects in the regions bordering Russia, the latter is improving its environmental record heading into 2017.

Russia and the EU: A history of collaboration

To understand the future basis of cooperation, it’s important first to understand that Russia and the EU actually have a 25-year history of environmental partnership. In 1991, within the Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States (TACIS) program, the EU started a project that dealt with the environment and nonproliferation. It also involved Russia and contributed to alleviating some environmental and nuclear challenges.

Nearly ten years later, 2000 saw the creation of the Russian Regional Center for Environmental Protection (now defunct). For nearly two and one-half years, Russia and the EU extensively cooperated to harmonize environmental state standards and help the Russian authorities to improve environmental legislation. Its cost was €2.5 million (approximately $2.65 million).

Another project, Civil Protection, which was implemented from 2010 to 2013, sought to come up with a framework of how to prepare and respond to natural and man-made disasters as well as protect the environment and population by increasing the country’s resilience to numerous external factors, including emergencies brought on by large-scale weather events.

At the same time, an international foundational for supporting environmental collaboration was created, with €100 million ($106 million) allocated to implement the project. The banks of some European countries provided large long-term loans to get off the ground dozens of environmental protection projects in the St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Novgorod regions, as well as in the republics of Karelia and Komi, located in northwestern Russia. Within this program, the authorities established clean air and water infrastructure projects, including plants that recycled the waste of the chemical and cellulose industries.   

 

Moreover, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation, a German non-governmental organization, fostered EU-Russia academic and student exchanges in the field of environmental protection, with numerous grants and scholarships available for students and academics. Their goals were to spread awareness about environmental challenges and foster the decision-making process.

Russia and the EU: The current situation

Today, Russia-EU environmental cooperation is regulated within the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) signed by Russia’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry and its EU counterpart in Helsinki, Finland in October 2006. This initiative includes the creation of a special working group and seven sub-groups that are supposed to come up with a common environmental agenda and policy. In 2013, the PCA working group held its last session in Brussels. Unfortunately, the civil war in Ukraine interrupted and froze this process and the European Investment Bank (EIB) stopped funding its projects in Russia.

However, three years later, in 2016, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini announced the necessity for the “selective” resumption of cooperation with Russia in those fields that are mutually beneficial.